MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 73: SEAL

Sometimes I wonder about all the detrimental and harmful effects that social media, the internet, youtube, smartphones, iPhones, Androids, PlayStations, Nintendo, even the home theatre system and streaming juggernauts like Disney +, Netflix, Hulu, Stan, Foxtel and Amazon Prime; have all had on the society of today. Or better still, how much we rely on all of these aforementioned technological advances, to better our lives, when in fact, its actually making us rely much more on the technical and less reliable and less connected in an overall sense, when trying to connect face to face. There I said it. Controversial thought and opinion. Yes, the advent of advancements like Youtube, streaming services, smartphones, google, Facebook, Twitter and yes, even Disney +, have all changed the landscape of society now, but with all of it, has made us realise this very one thing- that behind all of the façade of trying to enjoy what is on offer to us, we are just people trying to not admit to ourselves, that we are suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out), and even realising that what we consume on a daily basis, be it youtube, Disney +, iPhones and the like, are just masking what we feel deep down inside of our very souls, that we are lonely, and want human connection more so than anything else!

Yes, I know social media, the internet, youtube, smartphones, even streaming services, and everything else in between, can seem like a topic that can surely either unite us or divide us, depending on where we are on the spectrum of this issues. Nevertheless, FOMO, loneliness, and the overconsumption of these aforementioned technological advances, still needs to be discussed, now more than ever. For social media, and the consumption of it by the generation of tomorrow, is more prevalent whenever we walk out on the street or even in the crowds of shopping centres- I see toddlers being inserted an iPad as a babysitter, whenever they are being pushed by their mothers in prams in the shopping centre, while I also see young people with headphones on, listening to music on their phone 24/7 wherever they go. I’ve even heard the effects of what Pokemon GO can do and how it stops traffic around the world, even leading people to undertake tasks that are dangerous, all in the name of receiving a few more Pokemon. While streaming giants like Disney + and Netflix, have made couch potatoes of a lot of binge-TV watchers, maybe even a couch potato of myself a little bit, to be completely honest. The need to be liked, and to know how many people like our posts or retweet our statuses, or even how many friends we have on facebook, has led us all down the rabbit hole, to the point where we may even need external validation of who we are and our identity from the social media we consume.

We spend so much time on Facebook, that we can even get our identity from there. We can even think of our worth and love is a direct result of how many TV shows we watch at a given time, or whether what we watch is similar to what other people watch, or whether other people can appreciate and vouch for our own likes (of TV shows and movies). We even admit that we have FOMO, and that we do not know what to do about it, because frankly, what can we do? We are a slave to what is in front of us, our smartphones, our social media that has gripped not only the millennials and GEN-Z, but also a bit of every other ‘generation’ as well. We become entranced by the things that are meant to make our lives better. We become so tied up in these technological elements, that we don’t necessarily know what to do, or even know who we are, without them. And it is for this very sobering fact, that I’ve decided to delve deep within the mighty chasms of the discography of Seal, for this current blog, in the series of 100 blogs, where I delve into artists who I firmly believe has made an impact in my own life, in music and culture, and in society in general, throughout modern music history. Seal has had numerous radio hits over the years- 7 studio pop/rock albums, and three cover soul albums, making this British singer-songwriter one of the most uniquely positioned solo artists to come out of the UK in quite some time. For at times on his solo soul covers, we see a glimpse of artists like Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble, while on his original work, especially his earlier material, we get glimpses of artists like DC Talk and Michael Jackson.

It’s a bit of a conundrum I reckon, because when hearing a lot of Seal in preparation for this blog post, I felt like I was listening to two separate artists. For both his musical styles are totally different, and that can be good in that his talents point to his musical versatility, while also painting a picture where we can’t necessarily fit him into a musical ‘genre’ box, which is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. Nevertheless, Seal and his music over the years has garnered plenty of success and popularity, and whilst people may often question the validity of my own personal choice to place him within the top 100 Influential artists list (because frankly, what other song has he had, other than ‘Crazy’ and ‘Kiss From a Rose’?- and maybe that’s a fair assessment!), what I’ve found is that more often than not, the artists that don’t have many songs as singles on the radio charts, tend to write much more introspective and compelling songs overall, songs that won’t necessarily do good at radio, but will nevertheless challenge and tug our hearts in a way that will hopefully motivate us into action for whatever cause we are behind. Seal’s songs are soul, and rock too. There’re fun and energetic melodies, then there’s the interesting songs that really need more of a listen to get the message out. Seal has reminded us through his music (both rock and soul) that he’s much more than the sum of ‘Kiss From a Rose’ and ‘Crazy’, and as I’ve heard this last week, the underratedness of Seal is indeed very much shown through a lot of other songs, which are not ‘Kiss From a Rose’ and ‘Crazy’, ironically.

Born in the early 1960s, and having a career spanning from 1990s till now, Seal (born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel) is most well known for his big personality, and ever bigger songs that have been impacting millions of people around the world for the better part of 30 years. While Seal will be forever remembered for either ‘Crazy’, ‘Kiss From a Rose’ or even both; we see this British singer-songwriter deliver a vocal reminiscent of someone like Michael Tait, to present a musical catalogue that is compelling as it is challenging and heartfelt. ‘Crazy’, from Seal’s first eponymous album SEAL I, is a song that has a myriad of interpretations, depending on who you ask- from the broad theme of taking LSD and being on a ‘trip’, to being inspired by the crazy events of 1989-90, namely the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the aftermath of such a historic event in the life of Germany. Seal’s songs nevertheless has derived plenty-a-meaning, and regardless of how we all see this song, what remains is still the same- that we as people in 2021, can still relate to such a song as this, 30 years later. ‘Crazy’ challenges this notion that to go through life means to play it safe- the song speaks about how ‘we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy’, an understanding that sometimes it is in the craziness of life and our decisions we make, that we can make sense of world equally as that. ‘Kiss From a Rose’, Seal’s other radio hit (in fact, ‘Kiss From A Rose’ is Seal’s only #1 hit, ever), is Seal’s most popular, but also one of the most mysterious and quirky. It’s a familiar melody, one that I’m sure everyone who knows music from the 1990s, would know. I did, and that was years before 2021, when I delved into the Seal discography. ‘Kiss From a Rose’ is just iconic with the 1990s, and yet, the song is as elusive as it sounds- to this day, there has been much debate about what the song actually means. According to a publication about the song on songfacts, the song has been, and I quote, ‘…one of the more mysterious songs ever written, there has been much speculation as to the meaning of “Kiss From A Rose” – many think it has something to do with drugs, while others hear it as an expression of love or a journey to the afterlife. Seal has never explained what the song is about, offering only that there was “some kind of relationship that inspired the lyrics.” Seal bucked convention by not including printed lyrics with the album, something he did because he didn’t want to wash away anyone’s interpretation. He also says that his songs often mean more than one thing, so attributing a meaning would be too simplistic. In lieu of lyrics, Seal wrote a screed on the subject that went with the album. “I think it’s the general vibe of what I’m saying that is important and not the exact literal translation,” he wrote. “The song is always larger in the listener’s mind because with it they attach imagery which is relative to their own personal experience. So it is your perception of what I’m saying rather than what I actually way that is the key.”…’ See…even Seal himself spoke about the song in some vague interpretation. Nevertheless, ‘Kiss From A Rose’ is as poetic, and equally frustrating, as these songs come. It’s not as simple or cut-and-dry like Bryan Adams’s ‘Everything I Do’, or even Celine Dion’s ‘The Prayer’. There’s a lot of nuances and hidden layers in ‘Kiss From a Rose’, elements about the song that may not be understood…ever, and maybe that’s ok. There’s a beauty in the tension of trying to figure out what a song means, and then realising that whoever you meet, there’s a different way of seeing it. And maybe that’s ok. For such a song as this, can have greater universal appeal, compared to another song that has more of a specific focus, and I’m sure there are times for generalities and there are times for focusing on one particular meaning. Whichever the case, Seal’s music has touched on both these interpretative ways, and ‘Kiss From a Rose’ is a reminder that a song doesn’t have to make sense in a literal way, for it to capture the hearts and minds of people around the world, for as long as such a song as ‘Kiss From a Rose’ has!

While the songs ‘Crazy’ and ‘Kiss from a Rose’ are in effect, the songs from Seal that make Seal’s discography as impactful as it is, there are still other songs, not as charting on radio has these two songs, but nevertheless still impactful and heartfelt. While the average person would only know ‘Crazy’ and ‘Kiss From a Rose’, there’s still a world of other single hits from Seal that nevertheless remind us of what a good songwriter he was (and still is), considering that a lot of Seal’s standout songs were from albums from the 1990s, what some would consider a lifetime ago. ‘Killer’, a song originally recorded by British acid house DJ Adamski (featuring the vocals of Seal), and then re-recorded by Seal on his own, for his eponymously debut album, speaks about this notion of loneliness, and a reminder that it is being lonely (even in a sea of people and amongst people you know) that can plague someone’s mind, and that can slowly ‘kill’ their personality, their mood, their will to converse with others on a healthy level of dialogue. ‘Killer’ reminds us of what the over-consumption of things can do to your psyche, when we realise that we can be so bombarded with technology advancements, and be ‘connected’ in a digital space, but still feel lonely and alone. ‘Future Love Paradise’, a single from SEAL I, speaks about this notion of racism, and how prominent it can be in a society that has been built on the backs of black slaves in a country that has borne the riches from people made to feel less than. ‘Future Love Paradise’ longs for a time and a place where racism can be a thing of the past- the song was recorded in 1990, and unfortunately in 2021, racism still exists. Nevertheless, such a song was needed at the time (and still needed now), as Seal challenges where this racism comes from and why we have it in ourselves in the first place. ‘The Beginning’ seeks to show us a duality and a polarity between ourselves as we live this life, and this elusive ‘she’, probably deemed to be the seductiveness and the trappings of the world, tells us of our own deepest desires, and our darkest worries and insecurities. The song also reminds us of the necessity of music and love to combat such polarising tensions in life; while ‘Violet’ is an acknowledgement of changes in life, and that sometimes, people just move in different directions, just because. And that isn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, and Seal reminds us through ‘Violet’, to cherish what we have when we have it, to look expectedly with anticipation, towards a future unknown, while also not forgetting our own experiences, that have shaped us to become who we are.

As we continue to hear these albums by Seal, we continue to see his ability to create songs that touch a person on a ‘soul’ level. ‘Prayer For the Dying’ is a personal song for Seal, who had a few run-ins with death throughout his life- and came out of the other side, intact and living to tell the tale of his experiences with the finite nature of life itself. ‘Prayer For the Dying’ is a song that has resulted from Seal’s near-death experiences, as we’re reminded that times during life, people aren’t necessarily as fortunate as we are- there are many deaths around the world, preventable and unavoidable, that have occurred. Seal could’ve been one of them. Nevertheless, ‘Prayer for the Dying’ allows us all to become more appreciative of life as a whole, to never take such a thing for granted. ‘Newborn Friend’ is a song that speaks about a persona trying to succeed in life, by compromising on the values and the ethics they hold dear, while also alluding to the fact that unfortunately in life, the people that often do get ahead, seemingly do so by compromising what they believe, and thereby settling for a value set at the end of the day, lesser than what they initially had; while the song ‘I’m Alive’ is tasked with bringing to the fore, this theme of change, and how while we are still alive, we can impact and affect the change in the world around us, the changes in our own lives, be it good or bad, will still nevertheless make us stronger and wiser, being hopefully, all the better for it. ‘Don’t Cry’, a standout song, not just on SEAL II but throughout all of Seal’s discography as well, speaks of a persona, who has gone through difficulty and trials and have come out the other end, singing to someone else, who is going through something similar to the persona. The persona longs for this person not to cry, but to remember that they are not alone in their own difficulty, because of the persona’s relatability to the person’s affliction.

As Seal’s discography continues to roll along, we see tracks that are seemingly not ‘Kiss From a Rose’ and ‘Crazy’, but still nevertheless, impact and challenge, just as much as these two ‘standout’ songs from Seal. ‘Human Beings’, from Seal’s third album, is a hauntingly, eerily compelling song about mortality, or as Seal himself puts it, in a rare interview to MTV back in the day, ‘…it’s basically saying that we are not invincible. That we are human beings and that we are born into this life, we have a vocation to fill, and then we die, and that vocation is not pretending we are gangsters. It is essentially a song of love. It was also, I guess, inspired by this constant fear of death that we seem to live in…’; while ‘Lost My Faith’ speaks about this real look at failed relationships, and how a persona may feel like they’ve lost their faith…in people, in God, in themselves, because of their life thus far, and what they’ve been facing that can maybe even shake someone’s faith to the core. ‘Get it Together’, from Seal’s 4th album Seal IV, is a gospel-esque song about getting life together, and joining together towards a common goal of unifying the world instead of dividing it, the lyrics of the song really making the message plain, that ‘…we got to keep this world together, got to keep it moving straight, love like we mean forever, so that people can relate, if you’re rolling to your left, don’t forget I’m on the right, trust and forgive each other, a little love and we just might…’, while the song ‘Waiting For You’ is a song about commitment- sticking it out and waiting for the someone in your life that you know is the most special for you, all the while understanding that while you wait for the best thing, they’ll be other things in your way that can be good, but not the best. ‘Love’s Divine’, a song that I heard in my youth (yes, a song played frequently on the radio in the 2000s), also allows us all to hear this notion and understanding of yearning for love, and believing that in love, even the love of the divine given to ourselves, is something that can help us in our own difficulties. For when we realise that the love we receive is freely given, we’re positioned to also love other people, out of a posture of thankfulness that the love we’ve received so freely, we ought to give out to others. Seal also continued to release albums upon albums of radio singles and standout songs, and tracks like ‘Amazing’ (an ode and an appreciation to someone who is doing their best, getting clean from drugs and other people seeing that they are amazing, for taking the steps necessary to rid themselves of the toxins in their system), ‘The Right Life’ (an EDM summery dance track about longing to live the ‘right life’, that you’re willing to be put under the ‘right spell’ so that you can live in a circumstance and situation you crave and long for, from a distance) and ‘Rolling’ (an acoustic vulnerable moment of longing for life to mean more than what can be seen currently, living in a soul-less way, but all the while trying to find the grander purpose of it all), all anchor Seal’s 5th album SystemSeal’s 6th and 7th albums, Commitment and 7 respectively, released in 2010 and 2015, with each of these albums providing us all songs of hope and inclusion, of restoration and healing, as Seal encourages us to be ok with wrestling with your feelings for a while, and sitting with what can seem to look like messiness, but can in turn become things that force us to reckon with ourselves and to allow us to become better people for the self-reflection.

Commitment, unveiled in 2010, boasted standout songs like ‘Secret’ and ‘Weight of My Mistakes’, while 7, released 6 years ago in 2015, also provides to us standout songs like ‘Every Time I’m With You’ and ‘Life on the Dancefloor’. It is in these songs that has made Seal seemingly more so relevant in the days of now, as even though songs like ‘Crazy’ and ‘Kiss From a Rose’ will forever be associated with Seal and will forever be known as ‘Seal’ songs, there seems to be a need for newer material, so that Seal can bring into the fold, newer fans as these tracks deliver themes relevant to current society. These songs on Commitment and try to bring with it, a new era, as Seal delivers music that people may not be as familiar with, but nevertheless, songs that still have a fondness and a heartfelt nature to them; and songs that maybe in time, can become as emotive, poignant and compelling as ‘Crazy’ and ‘Kiss From a Rose’…just maybe. ‘Secret’, from Seal’s 6th album Commitment, speaks of the pride and humility that comes in a person’s life when they know they are the ‘secret’ in someone else’s, this appreciation that comes when you know, you’re special in the life of another; whilst the song ‘Weight of My Mistakes’ ushers in a message of overcoming emotional obstacles in one’s life, and not being pulled back and down, by the past and what it can often hold over us, in a fashion that keeps us tied and not looking forward, but either to the side, or even behind us. This theme of love, family and commitment intertwines Commitment the album holistically, as Seal reminds us of the necessity of being committed to someone for the long haul, to never back down from a relationship/friendship/marriage, just because it gets hard. ‘Every time I’m With You’, a single from Seal’s 7th album 7, is one of the first songs written and recorded post-breakup with his ex-wife Heidi Klum, and Seal presents this track as one that is in all attempts, a way of being romantic, from the perspective of someone who’s just become single. Or as Seal himself relays to us all, ‘…I just tried to imagine the one thing your significant other would most want to hear from you. You ask your partner, ‘Why do you love me? Why are you with me?’ and the response is, ‘There are many reasons, but one of the main reasons is, every time I’m with you, I feel wanted.’ I can’t think of many things that are more beautiful, which I’d either want to say or hear. It was my attempt at being romantic! Whether or not, I achieved it, only time will tell…’ ‘Life On the Dancefloor’, a 5 minute party tune, presents a different side of Seal that people may not have heard before, as he presents this theme about someone capturing the persona’s attention, and in the setting of the song, it’s a woman capturing the attention of a man (or vice versa) at a club/night-time setting, as we see how in a moment, a connection between two individuals can occur, either in such rapid fashion, or in a slow, eloquent way, that can both be valid in a setting out-with-friends. ‘Life on the Dancefloor’ encourages us all to be on the lookout for connections and sparks as they happen, and allows us to bring our confidence game to the setting at hand, and to be reminded that sometimes, connections between people can often happen when you don’t necessarily think about it.

Seal’s main discography has been across his 7 albums, yet his ‘side-venture’ if you would call it, has been into the genre of soul music, as Seal unveiled to us 3 cover soul albums throughout his career thus far- SoulSoul II and Standards, with many of the songs on these three albums, being melodies of old, and melodies timeless, that we all know about- from ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s World’, ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, ‘Luck to Be a Lady’, ‘People Get Ready’ and ‘Stand By Me’, to others like ‘Let’s Stay Together’, ‘Lean on Me’, ‘Wishing on a Star’ and ‘Smile’, to name a few, of the many, many soul/jazz songs that are familiar across his 3 albums. And whilst these three sets of recordings may not necessarily be as popular or even as emotive as his original songs, Seal nevertheless presents his music in a different unique way- from rock in his earlier days, to soul/jazz right now? That’s a pretty good musical-genre switch-up, right? Who knows, maybe he can record a soul/jazz album full of all-originals in the future. Regardless, it has been these three cover albums that make me look more fondly upon Seal and his ability to create music which now has a more general, broad appeal, compared to his audience of the 1990s, who were more invested in his rock atmosphere. Nevertheless, Seal’s ability to present different genres in different eras of his music, is something of a masterpiece. Seal also contributed many other songs (not attached to albums) as part of a series of compilations over the years- ‘Fly Like an Eagle’, a cover of the 1977 song by Steve Miller, was covered by Seal for the 1996 movie soundtrack of Space Jam, while ‘This Could Be Heaven’, a song that was supposed to be the first single from Seal’s unreleased fourth album Togetherland, was placed on the 2001 soundtrack for the movie The Family Man, as the song reminded us all about family and the little heavenly moments we all can share with the people we love and who we surround ourselves with. ‘A Father’s Way’, a song recorded and placed on the soundtrack of the underrated movie The Pursuit of Happyness, speaks about a father’s longing to provide a better way to live, for the life of himself and his child, as he promises to search for another way to be and to live; while Dionne Warwick song ‘Walk on By’ is given the Seal treatment, and is a great reminder of how such a song that was impactful in the 1960s, can still have an impact and maybe find a newer audience, all these years later!

Even though Seal’s forte is primarily in music, he’s also been able to diversify his portfolio a little bit, from acting as Pontius Pilate in the live stage production of The Passion: New Orleans in 2016, and lending his vocals to a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, for the 2010 Herbie Hancock album The Imagine Project, to being part of the Channel 9 reality show The Voice Australia for the first two seasons of it (and then subsequently joining again in 2017 for another season as well). For even though Seal will be remembered for being a powerful singer-songwriter, his personality on not only The Voice, but also his critically acclaimed role on The Passion: New Orleans, makes this British artist, one to be in awe of, as we see his down-to-earth demeanor being presented in The Voice Australia, as well as his acting chops in the live stage production in 2016 as well. Maybe we can see Seal in more acting roles in the future? Whatever the case, what did draw me to Seal’s initially was the song ‘Killer’, and the message of loneliness and how we ought not to let people be alone, for whatever reason, because loneliness is a killer, is something that has reminded me in my own life, to always keep in company with people that can bring me down to earth if I ever swing the pendulum, too hard one way or the other. ‘Killer’, not ‘Kiss From a Rose’ or ‘Crazy’, was the first song that really drew me into such an artist as Seal, and for that, I’m to be grateful for one of Seal’s first singles, to remind us of the need for community and the fellowship we need in our lives, even at the void of TV and other social media, that can often act as friendship substitutes. Seal’s music challenges and inspires, lifts up and encourages, and even if for the two songs ‘Kiss From a Rose’ and ‘Crazy’ alone, ought to be listened to by people, at least once. Who knows, maybe Seal’s music will impress you more than you know. Rock and soul, pop and jazz, this is an artist whose career as a soul-cover artist, and a rock-original material artist, is something that can hopefully continue concurrently into the future. A jazz all-original album from Seal, and a rock covers album from Seal in the near horizon? One can only hope!

Does Seal and his music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Kiss From a Rose’ and ‘Crazy’; that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.